November 8, 2017 / 6:10 PM / a year ago

Maradona backs Venezuela's Maduro, signs for World Cup coverage

CARACAS (Reuters) - Former Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona has voiced fervent support for Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro and signed up to work for Caracas-based Telesur TV during next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) attends a soccer practice with Argentina soccer legend Diego Maradona (centre R) in Caracas, Venezuela November 7, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Maradona, a World Cup winner in 1986 and longtime backer of leftist causes around the world, stated his loyalty to Maduro during a visit this week to Venezuela.

Other sports and entertainment personalities this year have berated Maduro, who has faced down months of opposition protests and a chorus of international censure for alleged rights abuses.

“I am here to give my support to Nicolas ... long live Maduro!” the 57-year-old Maradona said after a kickaround with the Venezuelan president late on Tuesday.

A beaming Maduro, 54, gave Maradona a photo of his predecessor Hugo Chavez with the former player, as well as a Venezuelan national team shirt.

“Putting on this shirt means a lot for our ‘Commander’ (Chavez), for Nicolas who has resisted so much battering by the opposition,” Maradona said, kissing the picture and hugging Maduro.

Maradona’s support for Maduro comes after Venezuelan opposition supporters took to the streets this year in protests that led to at least 125 deaths and brought fierce criticism from personalities including the manager of the national soccer team.

Maduro says he is facing a United States-led global right-wing conspiracy against him.

Maradona on Monday signed up to work as a pundit for regional Telesur broadcaster, which is funded by Venezuela and other leftist governments in Latin America, during the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

The popular Maradona, who delights in courting controversy with strong opinions on politics and soccer and has often crossed swords with soccer’s global ruling body FIFA, also worked for Telesur during the Brazil World Cup in 2014.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Colleen Jenkins

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